THE GOOPHERED GRAPEVINE
In the goophered grapevine, the main character’s wife was sick. A doctor that the man respected a lot told him he should move his wife to a warmer climate as to escape the harsh winters of the Great Lakes area. The man thought of some business venture he could pursue in a different setting and decided that growing grapes would be his best shot. After some thought, they decided to see into a move to the south and a relative offered them accommodations while they looked for a suitable spot. Charles Chesnutt gives beautiful descriptions of the landscape as he travels into a new land. The weather he describes as nice at the end of the summer season and talks of Oak and Pine trees that is very indigenous to the area to which I currently live. Charles Chesnutt also talks about the cultivation of farms and sandy-hills which we are accustomed to in this part (Piedmont region) of North Carolina. While looking over a farm and vineyard they run into a local who tells them that the place is bewitched, or in his words, “GOOPHERED!” The vineyard belonged Mars Dugal' McAdoo and according to the local man telling the story Mr. McAdoo hired a witch to keep the slaves from going into the vineyards and eating all the grapes and scuppermon’s. According to the local man she used some leaves and a snakes foot to put a spell on the scuppermon’s and any slave who ate them were going to die within 12 months. he goes on to explain to instances in which people ate the scuppermon’s and died, one within two weeks. This to the people proved that the scuppermon’s were bewitched or “goophered”. The local man goes on to talk about how a man who ate the grapes had the spell or “goopher in him and how he preceded to get the witch to help him ecape the death assured by the goopher. The witch allowed Henry to live due to his ignorance of the goophered vines. Every spring when the scuppermon’s began to sprout, Henry would get younger and begin to grow hair. He normally had little to no hair and as the season changes to the fall, he grows frail and bald. This continued up until his death. After the story the local man told him, the man decided to buy the vineyard anyway and was very prosperous in the business. The local who told the story actually owned a cabin on the property of the neglected vineyard and received good profits on them, but the man says he doesn’t know if that inspired the goopher story or not!
The Goophered Grapevine is just one of a collection of stories in Charles Chesnutt's "The Conjure Woman". I think the opening statement gives an exceptional viewpoint into the Goophered Grapevine’s connection with environmental literature. The story takes place shortly after slavery and we see how slavery is intertwined with aspects of the landscape. The slaves were oppressed and in the same way the landscape is exploited for profit. "Images of slaves conjured into aspects of the landscape both wild and cultivated repeat throughout Julius's tales in The Conjure Woman"(Myers). In "The Goophered Grapevine," Henry, a field hand, thrives in the summer when the grape vines are green and wither's in the fall when the vines themselves do the same." I think incorporating the people and the environment to which they live into one is an important aspect in environmental literature. Charles Chesnutt's story brings to attention environmental conservation or protection. He uses the "goopheredness" of the grapevine in order to deter consumption in an effort to preserve the grapes. Much like the EPA is in charge of protecting the environment. Here we see something supernatural that is representative of something real. This takes place in this story because of the links between witch craft, voodoo, and other supernatural aspects of slave culture. As a child I heard stories about root-workers and people who did voodoo. Here we see a human being with supernatural abilities when it comes to Henry the field hand who seems to change with the seasons. The grapevine itself is representative of the environment as a whole and the goopher that the witch put on the grapevine is representative of the supernatural aspect of environmental conservation. Whether we believe the supernatural or not, we still must see how the slave culture is in context with real life problems with the environment. Over use of the environment is a big problem even in today’s environmental culture. Rachel Carson articulates in her writing, “Lost Woods” that we should enjoy nature by just observing. Man’s interference in nature is what causes the destruction of it. She also gives important insight on the disastrous effects that environmental tampering can have on the wild-life and animal ecosystems that the environment supports. Culture plays a huge role in environmental literature. In the goophered grapevine by Charles Chesnutt we see how slave culture brings about awareness in environmental conservation. The slave culture that passes down stories of the supernatural such as witch-doctors and root-workers reveals itself in the environmental literature work.
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Myers, Jeffery. "Other Nature: Resistance to Ecological Hegemony in Charles W. Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman." African American Review. Farlex, 23 Mar. 2003. Web. 23 May 2011.
"The Goophered Grapevine." Charles W. Chesnutt. Web. 23 May 2011. <http://www.chesnuttarchive.org/Works/Stories/grapevineinfo.html>.